It’s best to go into David Marmor’s 1BR, which played at 2019’s Beyond Fest this past weekend, with as little foreknowledge as possible. I was introduced to 1BR via Beyond Fest’s website in the form of a two-minute YouTube clip. To say I was startled is an understatement. The clip uses horror as misdirection for even further horror and does it all without spoiling a single detail…
…1BR smartly starts with a benign sense of disquiet. Sarah, Nicole Brydon Bloom in a subtly powerful turn, is a recent Los Angeles transplant, living out of a hotel and running down her dreams of becoming a Hollywood costume designer while she clings to what is spared of her soul at a tedious temp job. In her search for more permanent housing for herself, her cat Giles, and her behemoth sewing machine, she happens upon an apartment complex that appears to host a thriving intergenerational community of neighbors. On face value nothing about this should bother us. What should bother us, is that it does bother us. Still, the sense of community is perhaps too strong. Enter the benign disquiet.
To later ill effect, Sarah disregards the building’s no pet policy which finds her dodging potentially fruitful encounters with neighbors, including Brian (Giles Matthey), her complex crush. Sarah’s psyche is slowly eroded by a nightly cacophony of unsettling sounds and movements and escalates into a home invasion that sends the rest of the film into a shocking tailspin. What begins as an exercise in mild discomfort accelerates into a strangely aseptic fever dream of violence and cultish psychological degradation.
The influences are strong in 1BR. Notes of dread that call to mind Karyn Kusama’s masterwork in suspense, The Invitation, and Ti West’s The House of the Devil are palpable. Marmor smartly evokes the classics of paranoia and cultism, most to good effect.
Cults have been a conceptual wellspring for the horror and thriller genre. No matter the era, they seem to be a rock in the perpetually shifting river of cultural zeitgeist. Their periodic horrors serving as temporal touchstones, branding entire decades. In 1BR we have found our iteration for the 2010s. While watching, I found myself flashing back to the late 90s and Heaven’s Gate, my generation’s rendition of Jim Jones or the Manson family. I recall seeing Marshall Applewhite’s wide-eyed visage of mania plastered over every TV and tabloid cover and thinking “Of course this guy’s a suicide cult leader. Look at his fucking eyes.”
That’s when 1BR’s best trick coalesced for me. It engenders that paranoia, that fear of losing one’s autonomy and worse still the possibility that one might be complicit in giving it freely away, all behind the smiling mask of community. Its vision isn’t always 20/20, but the film never loses that dread and uncertainty as it needles the audience for the better part of two hours. It’s the Spahn Ranch with a pet policy, Jonestown with a courtyard, and I’m left thirsty to see what Marmor will do next.
1BR is currently on its festival run.
By Paul Bauer